Riley's Reviews > Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination

Walt Disney by Neal Gabler
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Jul 14, 2010

really liked it
Read in July, 2010

I just finished reading this 600 page biography of Walt Disney. That is in addition to the 215 pages of notes and references documenting the information.

As has never been the case with a biography I’ve read, when certain parts of Walt’s project seem to become less interesting to me as a reader, it must have been the case in Walt’s life too. That seamed to be the time when he would become disengaged from one project and move on to another. Examples, animation shorts, feature animation, war time films, feature films, Disneyland, constructing exhibits for New York World’s Fair vendors. Each time creating a new “sub” company, Laugho-O-Gram, Disney Bros Studio, Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Productions, Disneyland Inc, WED, and my favorite, Yensid Retlaw.

The most fascination events that I found were the financing and promotion of Disneyland. For the complex financing Walt and Roy crafted a deal with ABC television. ABC agreed to a three-year contract for twenty-six one hour programs. Fifteen percent of the ABC funds were funneled from Walt Disney Productions to Disneyland. In addition, ABC committed to take $2 million of ten-year bonds. However, Walt saw these 1 hour programs, aptly called “Disneyland” simply as promotional material to exhibit stories, themes, and ideas that related to the park, be it stories of the folklore stores of “Frontier land” to animated shorts of “Fantasyland”. With production costs, Disney made no money on that television deal. How ironic that ABC made Disneyland possible, and years later the Walt Disney Company would in turn purchase the broadcast company.

Interesting tid bits:
- Even prior to Snow White Walt operated almost entirely by instinct as at he no longer drew well enough to show the animators
- Bambi was to be the great work of art set to rival Snow White. However, commercially was a failure
- Sleeping Beauty was one of the largest animation disappointments and almost was the end of Disney feature animation.
- During the war, it was government films and animation that kept the studio in business. With out it, it would have been bankrupt
- There was not enough money to finish the landscaping in certain areas and instructed an employee to put Latin names on the weeds as if they were specimen plants.

Perhaps what I enjoyed most was the ability to further explore some of these stories and concepts further. By living in SoCal, I was able to see some of the sites that were key locations in Walt’s life. Also, after reading about some of the animation shorts, how refreshing is it to go to Youtube and watch them (like Donald in Nutzi-land).

Back in 1948 the Disney label was selling roughly $100 million goods. There was a full line of Donald Duck foods including field peas with snaps, peanut butter, catsup, chili sauce, macaroni, mayonnaise, and egg noodles. I find it interested that in the past 5-10 years that licensing unit has ventured back into the grocery foods unit. However, now it seems that the products tend to be more health conscious.


The one area that disturbed me was the end of this biography. Now, I’m not saying that the end of Walt’s life should have been expanded upon, nor would the reader be so inclined to want to read more about failing health. However, after reading over 600 pages of a biography of this detail and length, only the 6 final pages cover this topic made it feel like the ending was abrupt. However, I do not believe that this was due to the writing, but more so due to Walt’s life. It was clearly mentioned that Walt gave little reflection to thought of religion or afterlife. For a man who spent his entire life striving to creating something that was perfect, be it animating a prince in Snow White that didn’t shimmy or an amusement park of that a perfect childhood utopia, “he demonstrated how one could assert one’s will on the world at the very time when everything seemed to be growing beyond control and beyond comprehension. In sum, Walt Disney had been not so much a master of fun or irreverence or innocence or even wholesomeness. He had been a mater of order.” One can see how he had been terrified of death; it was something that he could not control. What a sad ending to an otherwise fairy tale story.
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